Nebraska's First Motion Picture
The movie industry was in its infancy seventy-five years ago, but that didn't stop some
enterprising Nebraskans from getting in on the ground floor. The Black Hills Feature Film
Company of Chadron, Nebraska was organized in 1915 with the intention of producing a
movie about Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.
And produce they did. Using a script penned by Mrs. James Hartzell, and featuring local
citizens A. J. Johnson and Freda Romine in the principal roles, the company made a seven
reel western thriller. Cavalry from Fort Robinson and Indians from the Pine Ridge
reservation recreated their formerly hostile roles for the film.
"In the Days of '75 and '76" opened to rave reviews in 1916. "The picture is a marvel of
movies. Every scene is taken from the real article and the characters are so true and familiar
to us as to almost demand speaking recognition. This picture has cost the Black Hills Feature
Film Company hours of hard and hazardous labor, to say nothing of money cost. No finer
scenery is to be seen on any screen in America today. Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are of the
never-dying types of pioneers."
Chadron citizens were not the only enthusiasts. Audiences in Wayne, Tekamah, and
Hartington, Nebraska, and Douglas and Lusk, Wyoming agreed "there is not a Wild West
film going the rounds this season that is anything to compare with the Wild Bill and Calamity
Ads for the film included a synopsis that promised thrills and chills. The movie followed the
love affair of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, "showing their life and dealings with the Indians,
the attack by the Indians on the wagon train, the thrilling drive of Calamity Jane driving the
stage coach loaded with gold bullion from Deadwood to Sidney, and the holdup of the stage
by Jack McCall's gang." Wild Bill's death, at the hands of the jealous Jack McCall, and
McCall's subsequent conviction, brought the film to a tragic but just conclusion.
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